The album includes a few unreleased songs — ideas that Kurt never returned to like “Burn the Rain” and “She Only Lies.” Were you able to ask Krist Novoselic if he had ever heard them and, if so, why the band never played them?
I never had the chance to talk to Krist. The one thing I can tell you with a lot of these songs, which is interesting — with songs that are familiar to Nirvana fans like “Frances Farmer …” and “Been a Son,” we heard dozens of variations. “Sappy” — in his demos, Kurt must have had about 15 different versions. But most, if not all, of the unreleased material on this album does not exist in multiple versions. Meaning there is only one version of “She Only Lies.” Which is interesting, because a lot of those songs are pretty fleshed out.
The extended medley of “You Can’t Change Me/Burn My Britches/Something in the Way (Early Demo)” — is that actually the sequence in which he recorded it?
That existed exactly in that context. That blew my mind. It was almost like a punk opera. What I found interesting is he comes back to “Burn My Britches” after “Something in the Way.” There’s another song, “Desire.” Kurt would be working on a song, and he would somehow land back on this “Desire” refrain. On the deluxe edition of the album, it comes into play two or three times. It’s this floating theme, feathered throughout.
Wherever possible, we tried to preserve the sequence as it might exist on the tapes. Going from “Aberdeen” to [the song] “Bright Smile” to [the spoken piece] “Underground Celebritism” — that follows [the order] on the original cassette that I unearthed. Often we would leave the static in after a song, as it existed on the tape, to reproduce the experience I had when I was listening to the tapes the first time.
As a listening experience, this album could drive people nuts. It suggests an untameable imagination — Kurt’s synapses are firing all over the place.
We have 31 cues on here, of which only a handful have ever been on Nirvana albums, in finished versions. And you have to remember — this is just the audio stuff. He was also creating journals and visuals. It goes back to what Krist said [in the film] — Kurt had to create. It poured out of him. That, to me, is the joy of the first half of the album. He’s not exploring these darker things that haunted him. What you get is a young man sitting in an apartment by himself. Nobody is telling him to write a song. He’s amusing himself.
The morality of putting out unfinished work — I know that is a criticism that will be lobbied against the project. But just like the Bootleg Series furthers your understanding of Bob Dylan’s process, I find that Montage of Heck: The Home Recordings furthers not just our understanding of his process but represents yet another angle, another side of Kurt — an artistic outlet that he was not necessarily able to work with in the context of a three-piece band. It’s not scraps and discarded, insignificant material. It really is furthering our understanding of one of the most significant artists of our time.